RCCC board calls on state to return millions to community colleges

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Rowan-Cabarrus Community College board of trustees recently passed a resolution of support for a statewide campaign for community colleges.

The resolution calls on the N.C. General Assembly to support initiatives that would bridge the “interest” gap between the jobs that exist and the interest of students in exploring those fields. The resolution also calls for an infusion of funding to support high-tech equipment and community college instructors and staff.

“We believe these steps are critical for North Carolina’s economic success. We are putting taxpayers back to work in better careers. We are closing the gap for employers, creating opportunities for job creation and retention,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. “We are a great value, saving money for North Carolina families.”

The campaign would allow the North Carolina Community College System to retain $59 million now returned to the state as a part of management flexibility cuts and invest those funds in instructor and staff salaries. It would also appropriate $7 million to place community college-employed career coaches in high schools and allot $15 million to provide equipment and support that will bridge the technology gap.

“Both the governor and the General Assembly have encouraged agencies to look for efficiencies,” said Spalding. “Community colleges have made great strides forward. The funds we are asking to reinvest in other priorities come from savings we have generated.”

Employers have long talked about a skills gap between the skills they need and the skills that job-seekers have. Another recent identified gap is in interest – an interest gap.

“People get nervous when they hear about jobs in manufacturing. But manufacturing isn’t dead – it’s different. It’s high-tech and clean,” continued Spalding. “We need our parents and young people to know that this is a viable and promising career field.”

Reinvesting in community colleges, an RCCC news release said, will enable support for the strategic priorities critical for North Carolina’s economic success: closing the salary gap, closing the interest gap, closing the technology gap, and providing in-state tuition for veterans.

Closing the Salary Gap – $59 million now returned to the state as a part of management flexibility cuts would be invested in instructor and staff salaries.

“Community college faculty and staff continue to be paid significantly less than national and regional averages. North Carolina’s average faculty salary ranks 11th in the 16-state Southeast Regional Education Board area and 41st nationally. We ask the General Assembly to provide the funds to support all educators in North Carolina with a salary that reflects the value they bring to our students and our community,” said Spalding.

North Carolina community college instructor and staff salaries rank among the lowest nationally and in the Southeast despite being highly trained, experienced, and dedicated employees who are the key to student success, the college said in its news release. Rowan-Cabarrus instructors and staff help citizens obtain higher-paying jobs, help employers by providing a skilled workforce, help families by providing high-quality, cost-effective education.

“In any other industry, paying people what they’re worth in terms of education and experience is a no-brainer. For some reason, educators are consistently underpaid, even though they contribute much to the country’s long-term economic prosperity,” said Carl M. Short, chairman of the college’s board of trustees.

Closing the Interest Gap – $7 million appropriated in recurring funds over two years would establish a fund to match business, philanthropic and local funding to place community college-employed career coaches in high schools.

Employers have expressed the need to develop a pipeline of talented workers to meet current and future workforce demands, but there is an “interest gap” in technical careers among young people.

Closing the Technology Gap – $10 million allotted in non-recurring funds for equipment to provide a significant infusion of funds to support equipment for programs leading to well-paying jobs and $5 million allotted for recurring funds to provide support to pilot up to nine colleges to move to a hosted “cloud” environment as required by State ITS, which is expected to be more technically efficient and allow colleges to begin to move to a new platform.

In order to prepare North Carolina’s workforce, the college must have up-to-date equipment and technology. While North Carolina community colleges operate one of the largest higher education IT systems in the U.S., colleges must move to a new operating platform before the current platform reaches end-of-life.

While the portion of these funds that the college would receive cannot yet be determined, Rowan-Cabarrus usually receives about 4 percent of the state community college budget.

“We urge the N.C. General Assembly to support North Carolina’s economic recovery by reinvesting in the state’s community colleges,” said Dakeita Vanderburg-Johnson, chairwoman of the college’s legislative committee. “Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in particular has worked very hard to provide high-quality, affordable education to our citizens. They need and deserve our support.”

The campaign also calls for year-round funding for transferable general education courses which transfer to all state universities. This will provide Rowan-Cabarrus Community College students the opportunity to earn additional transfer credits at a lower cost to both the student and the state.

Additionally, the resolution calls for in-state tuition for veterans and their dependents. Veterans are a vital part of North Carolina’s economy and Congress has mandated in-state tuition for certain veterans and their dependents.